We already have several questions that essentially ask how to say "no":

And then there are ones like these, which ask how to make potentially awkward requests:

All of these questions could be answered with essentially the same answer: be polite, but firm. Of course people would explain how to do that in different ways, and lots of people would give specific advice for specific circumstances, but for a lot of this, it's essentially one social skill: being able to assert your boundaries.

We can't set required reading for a site, but if we could I think the classic book Boundaries would have to be one!

Cover of the book Boundaries by  Henry Cloud and John Townsend

I'd love to see questions that say "I know I need to be assertive, but I'm unsure the best way to be assertive in situation X". I guess my big problem with the questions I listed is that I can't tell from any of them that the OP knows that being assertive is a core skill of being a mature social adult. If the OP doesn't know that assertiveness is a core skill, do we answer that in each and every question, or do we use a canonical question?

We're only going to continue getting more questions like this. What should we do?

Some options:

  • Create a canonical question about politely asserting your boundaries, which questions like these could be closed as duplicates of. Good answers would outline various approaches and give lots of links to find out more.
  • Declare these off-topic with a custom close reason which would contain a link, and essentially have the same information as the first option, but as a Meta Q&A instead
  • Don't try to have a single canonical Q&A, but have multiple, and try to pick the most appropriate one to close questions as duplicates of.

Note that having a canonical question or custom close reason doesn't mean these questions need to be permanently closed. What we would want is for vague how-to-assert-my-boundaries questions to be quickly closed, for the OP to be pointed to a meta page which explains what details should be added to make it a good focused question, for them to edit the question, and then for us to reopen the question. But having a good canonical question is still important, because in my experience 50% or more of new users are not willing to go through this kind of process.

  • Could you please stop editing the OP in a way that makes my answer no longer applicable?
    – dhein
    Jun 28, 2017 at 13:36
  • @dhein Sorry! It's just that as I've been responding to your comments I keep coming up with better ways of explaining my question/proposal. The bold phrase for example I think really captures my point. As this is in Meta, it's allowed for questions to be changed more substantially if it makes them clearer. And in this case, the core of the question remains unchanged :) Jun 28, 2017 at 13:38
  • 1
    Until we politely assert our boundaries?
    – SQB
    Jun 28, 2017 at 17:53

3 Answers 3


While I can see your problem, I don't think these questions are actually inappropriate neither most of them should be just answered by a general answer. I think it would be more beneficial if we try to narrow questions down to a specific degree, and from that degree, if the question is still specialized enough its on-topic, but if it is narrowed at that point down to something that can be answered by the general answer X, it should be off-topic.

Like adding a custom close reason

If your question is able to simply be answered by "Do it, but be polite", it is Off-Topic.

But the problem I'm seeing with that is, that this will be applyable for almost all posts on this site.

So I think there should be some exception involved, making posts On-Topic, that can explain WHY they don't know how to phrase it polite OR being able to explain WHY they think it's not doable.

This would turn "How do I... [politely]?" posts into "How can I.... [politely]?" that would tighten the scope of the questions, since It isn't On-Topic to ask about my specific situation, which just would be answerable by "Do so, but be polite", But it would be valid to ask "How can I express ... polite", since this kind of question is easy to be identified as duplicate, or if not asked before, simply being a valuable to have as question.

  • More specific questions would definitely be good! But, note that the main reason why we want to close questions early is to stop people from writing answers which offer poor advice. The ideal would be for vague how-to-say-no questions to be closed as a duplicate/off-topic within minutes, for the OP to come to a meta page which explains why that happens and what kind of details make for a good question, for them to edit the question to add sufficient detail, and then for us to reopen the question. Jun 28, 2017 at 13:10
  • @curiousdannii: my answer is not meant as proposal, more as an vague idea how we could achieve that. But my idea it self was made to achieve exactly that.
    – dhein
    Jun 28, 2017 at 13:17
  • 1
    I'd love to see questions that say "I know I need to be assertive, but I'm unsure the best way to be assertive in situation X". I guess my big problem with the questions I listed is that I can't tell in any of them that the OP knows that being assertive is a core skill of being a mature social adult. Jun 28, 2017 at 13:18
  • @curiousdannii: I'm not sure if I can agree on that, but even if you are right, I don't see how that relates to OP. I mean I have problems with being assertive and still I see the problem. So that can just be minor part of the problem. But either way, what does that mean regarding my proposed solution?
    – dhein
    Jun 28, 2017 at 13:26
  • Questions about contextual politeness are a different kind of question, I think, from questions about how to get your way with the minimal amount of interpersonal conflict, which is how I'd classify many of the listed questions. A basic fact of interaction is that conflict is inevitable, and not asserting yourself when it matters to you will be worse for everyone in the end. When a question asks "I’d really like to find a way to get him to turn it down without “beating around the bush.”" there shouldn't be any answer other than "JUST SAY IT." Jun 28, 2017 at 13:32
  • So your proposed solution, encouraging specific details about contextual politeness, is essential I think, but if I've understood what you're saying, a different issue to the kind of question which asks "I don't know if I should speak my mind on this really important issue or not". Perhaps my list includes too many of the former, but I'm really thinking of the later. Jun 28, 2017 at 13:33
  • No, my point here is, if one only can tell what he doesn't know, tis off-topic. If one asks for "how to say..... with-(out)....?" its off-topic EXCEPT one can detailed explain why "<del>how to</del> say..... with-(out)....<del>?</del>" is not solving the problem OR if one explains a situation asking how to specifically react on that, so the OP is asking for advice how to communicate appropriate for a situation.
    – dhein
    Jun 28, 2017 at 13:42

While I think we should have a community-managed guide to asserting boundaries, I also think there's value in an answer that says "Here's how asserting your boundaries looks like in this situation." I've often been in circumstances in person where I explained or speculated something that seemed very simple about someone else's problem, and it turned out to be a revelation for them.

Having an example of when a general principle is applicable to a specific situation is useful.


I'll suggest that this constellation of related questions comes up so often because it is a critical interpersonal-type issue that many people have. This is what people are concerned about.

To my mind, that makes these questions all the more valuable, and the community can via these questions explore the many nuances of this common -- if not endemic -- problem.

Plus if you are unassertive and come here looking for help, it may kind of sting to be told your problem is a cliche.

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